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Causation and Reduction in Systems Biology (CRedS)

This project takes issue with causation, explanation, and reduction in life sciences from the viewpoint of contemporary philosophy of biology and philosophy of explanation. Project foci include the nature and epistemology of causation, explanatory reduction, and the notion of levels in research on complex biological systems. Our main goal is to further the philosophical understanding of these topics in light of developments in systems biology, with special attention to modularity assumptions in explanation and modeling. The complexity of biological systems challenges assumptions concerning modularity of biological mechanisms. At the same time, modularity assumptions and commitments are at the core of contemporary philosophical accounts of causation and explanation. We will assess, revise and develop these accounts, with the aim of contributing philosophical understanding and scientific conceptual development.

CRedS exemplifies a metaphilosophy with two main components: (1) philosophical analysis and understanding should aim at solving problems by developing and improving concepts, and (2) such conceptual development is best done in light of concrete and independently motivated problems, aims and purposes. For CRedS these are problems, aims and purposes arising within contemporary science, and within Systems Biology in particular. 

The project started fall 2014 and runs until March 2019.



Gry Oftedal, PI

Gry Oftedal is researcher at the Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Arts and Ideas, University of Oslo and affiliated with the Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature. Her research interests are mainly within the philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, and bio-nano ethics with a focus on causation, modeling, levels and gene concepts in systems biology and nanomedicine. Gry has degrees both in biology (MSc) and philosophy (PhD) and has previously lead the projects PSBio (Philosophical Foundations for Systems Biology) and NanoRedux (Perspectives on Reduction in Nanomedicine) at UiO. She has been a visiting researcher at Harvard University (Dep. Of History of Science), University of London (Institute of Philosophy, School of Advanced Studies), and University of Copenhagen (Centre for Philosophy of Nature and Science Studies and Nanoscience Centre).


Anders Strand

Portrait. Black and white. Photo.The main ambition in Anders' research is to improve our understanding of explanatory relations. He focuses on causal and constitutive explanations, and the relations between representational devices like concepts and models and the target phenomena these are supposed to explain. More concretely, his aims are to (1) develop a partly revisionary truth conditional analysis of key causal concepts within the broadly interventionist framework, (2) explicate the relation and differences between dependencies due to causal relations on the one hand, and constitutive, mereological, and conceptual relations on the other, (3) apply these resources to shed light on problems in philosophy of biology like causal parity, robustness/functional stability, higher-level causation, and the selection of explanatory levels.

Anders also has interests in both practical and normative issues having to do with communication in interdisciplinary contexts, the role of values in research processes, collective and corporate responsibility, and normative evaluation of research priorities.    


The project involves national and international cooperation with philosophers and systems biologists, and will employ an interdisciplinary approach to tackle philosophical-biological problems. Collaborators include:

Hanne Andersen, philosopher of science, professor and Head of the Department of Science Education, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Philosophy of natural sciences is her main research area. Her primary research interests are interdisciplinarity, scientific collaboration, scientific change, and responsible conduct of science. She is PI of the Danish Research Network for Philosophy of Science.

Carl Craver, philosopher of science and associate professor at the University of Washington St. Louis (USA). His research interests are philosophy of neuroscience, philosophy of science and philosophy of biology. Primary foci in the philosophy of science include explanation, causation, functions, levels, mechanisms, models, reduction, and the unity of science. He has developed a leading theory of mechanisms, the MDC-view, in cooperation with P. Machamer and L. Darden.

Claus Emmeche, theoretical biologist, philosopher of science, and associate professor and center director at the Center for the Philosophy of Nature and Science Studies (CPNSS), University of Copenhagen. Emmeche’s research interests are biosemiotics, theoretical biology and complexity studies, as well as philosophy of science, and social and philosophical studies of biology.

Sarah Green, post doctoral research fellow at Department of Science Education, University of Copenhagen. She investigates different representational and explanatory strategies for dealing with complexity in systems biology.

Arnon Levy, philosopher of science and biology and currently senior lecturer at the philosophy department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was awarded his PhD from Harvard University in 2010. His research focuses on modeling and explanation in the life Sciences.

Veli-Pekka Parkkinen, post doctoral reseracher at the project «grading evidence of mechanisms in physics and biology» at the University of Kent, UK.

Matti Sintonen, philosopher of science and professor at the University of Helsinki. His main research interests are within general philosophy of science, where he in particular has worked on scientific explanation and understanding, theory structure and theory choice, growth of knowledge, the nature of truth and information content, and on ‘aesthetic’ properties such as simplicity and consilience.

Olaf Wolkenhauer, systems biologist, professor and head of Department for Systems Biology and Bioinformatics at University of Rostock, Germany. His main research interest is the study of cellular function within the context of higher level organization (e.g. tissue function, organ level physiology).To this end he develops novel mathematical methodologies and computational tools that find application in a wide range of projects.


Master students

Two masterstudents have been affiliated with CRedS. They both successfully defended their master theses at the philosophy program at IFIKK, UiO, in the summer 2016. Anders was main supervisor and Gry was co-supervisor.


Bendik Hellem Aaby: "Mechanisms and Explanation: On the Origin of the New Mechanistic Philosophy"

Portrait. Photo.Bendik discusses the conceptual and metaphilosophical developments that led to the new mechanistic account of scientific explanation. He argues for both a historical and a metaphilosophical claim. Historically, he argues that the increasing popularity of the new mechanistic approach to scientific explanation is concurrent with a shift from a global approach in philosophy of science to an emphasis on more local perspectives, emphasizing the autonomy of the special sciences. Metaphilosophically, he shows how local perspectives in debates on central explanatory concepts – causation, reduction, and mechanism – result in contributions that often fail to explicitly state the intended scope of the account.


Bendik takes on a PhD position at The Institute of Philosophy at KU Leuven, where he will do research on pluralism about the concept of fitness in evolutionary biology. He will do his research at The Ramsey Lab, with Grant Ramsey as his supervisor.


Mori Diakite "Interventionism, realism and invariance – the kind of metaphysics that matters"

Portrait. Photo.Mori's main philosophical interests are in philosophy of science, epistemology and metaphysics, with a particular focus on causation and causal explanation.

His master thesis is on the role of invariance within James Woodward's interventionist framework, and on the metaphysical commitments accompanying Woodward's reliance on this notion.

Mori hypothesizes that the role of invariance for issues like causal explanation, replication and the interventionist account of counterfactuals introduces substantial metaphysical commitments, and he aims to spell these out.





CRedS is funded by the Norwegian Research Council (FRIPRO - Young Research Talents) and the University of Oslo.


Previous Events and Talk

Verdier og vitenskapelig objektivitet talk by Anders Strand at Filosofidagen for videregående skole 29.03.2017.


Causal specificity in biology, talk by Anders Strand (co-work with Gry Oftedal) at the CSMN Colloquium, March 2nd


The explanatory role of dispositions, discussion session led by Anders Strand. Workshop on dispositions, UiO; 2016-11-24. 


PhD course on Conceptual Development at IFIKK, UiO, August 29th - 31st 2016, in collaboration with the ConceptLab Project.

The course discussed the nature of conceptual development in general, and specific instances from various domains (science, social/political, and formal disciplines), with an ambition to inform philosophical methodology. Core topics include purposes, aims and mechanisms for developing/revising/engineering concepts, and development of causal concepts as an illustration.

Organizers were Herman Cappelen, Øystein Linnebo, Gry Oftedal, Bjørn Ramberg and Anders Strand.


Cross-level causal inquiry: constraints and possibilities talk by Anders Strand and Bjørn Ramberg, CSMN Work in progress seminar; 2016-04-26.

Er vitenskapelig kunnskap objektiv? Foredrag ved Anders Strand. Filosofidagen for videregående skole; 2016-03-09.

How Values Guide Nanomedical Research, talk be Anders Strand, ELSA Norway annual conference; 2016-04-11.

Restricted Causal Relevance talk by Anders Strand at  the CSMN Colloquium, 03.12.2015 

Kausal forståelse og kunnskapsbasert praksis, talk by Anders Strand at Forum for Vitenskapsteori, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, June 9th 2015.

Causation in Biology CRedS workshop, April 27th and 28th 2015, Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen. Workshop program with abstracts in pdf are availabel here.

Causal asymmetry and specifity, talk by Gry Oftedal at the CRedS workshop, Copenhagen, April 28th 2015.

Causal analysis, truth conditions and metaphysics, talk by Anders Strand at the CRedS workshop, Copenhagen, April 28th 2015.

Philosophical theorizing: truth conditions, natures and metaphysical explanations, talk by Anders Strand at the CSMN annual workshop, January 2015.

Published Nov. 2, 2015 11:28 AM - Last modified Mar. 26, 2020 9:11 AM


Project leader:

Gry Oftedal